Leaving Riyadh behind, stage five of the rally delivered one of the physically most challenging timed specials of the event so far.
For 456km, riders raced against the clock over various terrain, starting with rough.
Stony tracks in the early stages, before opening out into softer, undulating dunes on the drop-down to Al Qaisumah.
Another impressive performance by two-time Dakar winner Toby Price saw the Australian hunt down the riders opening the route.
As the 16th competitor to take to the special Price had to deal with both the extremely demanding navigation.
Required to complete the first part of the stage, and several slower rivals ahead of him.
Unfazed by the challenge, Toby got his head down and placed inside the top 10 by the third checkpoint.
He was continuing to charge through the second half of the special, mostly of sandy tracks and dunes.
The KTM 450 RALLY mounted rider ultimately clocked in third, just over one-minute down on the eventual stage winner.
Toby Price: “Quite a problematic stage today – the first 200 kilometres involved some technical navigation. We thought the early few stages were tricky. This one was another couple of levels worse.
I made a few mistakes early on, and the guys ahead got away a little bit, but overall I tried to manage the whole special’s pace.
And make sure I got through with no issues. That’s day five done, day six is looking pretty tough too, but then it’s on to the rest day. “
Demonstrating his trademark consistency over stage five, Sam Sunderland navigated superbly through the technically demanding first part of the special, losing the minimum amount of time compared to some of his rivals.
As the stage opened out into the dunes, Sam was able to stick to a solid but safe pace, slowly moving up the stage ranking as he went.
Fourth at the penultimate check, Sam dropped down to fifth at the line, due to the hard-charging price slotting in ahead. With five stages safely completed, the British rider lies fifth in the provisional standings.
Sam Sunderland: “Day five is in the books and done thankfully. It involved much tricky navigation through the canyon.
And rocks at the beginning of the stage as there weren’t many references. And it was challenging to find the right track.
I certainly did a few circles there in the first part. After that, I had to push because I knew I had lost some time, but everything went well, and I was happy to reach the finish.
It’s been another long day, especially with the liaison back to the bivouac, so I’ll get some rest now for tomorrow.
One more day of racing and then it’s the rest day, and I’m forward to that. “
Despite a couple of early navigational errors that ultimately cost him considerable time to the stage leaders.
Matthias Walkner subsequently put in an incredible ride to complete the special in a highly commendable eighth place after clawing back almost 10 minutes.
Happy with his performance, the Austrian will enjoy an advantageous start position for Friday’s stage six.
Matthias Walkner: “The stage started badly for me today. I think by kilometre 65 I had lost over 20 minutes.
It’s frustrating when a stage starts like that, but it’s so hard to keep pushing and looking at the roadbook – finding roadbook is tough. On the last half of the stage.
I tried my best to push over the dunes to make up time, I really enjoyed it, but it was hard to improve my result after losing ground early on.
I’m happy with how I rode through, and eighth is through the excellent result. “
KTM Factory Racing’s junior team member was the second rider to enter stage five.
Despite making a couple of errors early on that cost him some time on the chasing pack, Daniel Sanders soon came into his own when the terrain switched to sand and soft dunes in the latter part of the special.
The Australian Off-Road Champion, riding as part of the leading group, made the most of his desert racing experience and sustained an incredible pace to the finish to claim 15th for the day.
Daniel Sanders: “I enjoyed it today, even though it was tiring by the end. I lost a fair amount of time first thing, but then we hit the dunes, and I just checked out a little bit and opened it up.
It was a great jump off the top of the dunes, and I think I made up some time there too, which helped. I knew the guys, so I just tried to keep a robust pace. It was good fun, but to get to the end of a really tough day. “
Friday’s stage six of the 2021 Dakar Rally will see riders make a final push before enjoying a well-earned rest day.
Heading west from Al Qaisumah, the 618km stage leads to Ha’il and includes a timed special of 448km, with the route primarily made up of sandy tracks and dunes.
Provisional Results Stage Five – 2021 Dakar Rally
1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 5:09:50
2. Jose Ignacio Cornejo (CHL), Honda, 5:10:50 +1: 00
3. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 5:11:10 +1: 20
4. Lorenzo Santolino (ESP), Sherco, 5:12:19 +2: 29
5. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 5:14:07 +4: 17
8. Matthias Walkner (AUT ), KTM, 5:20:53 +11: 03
15. Daniel Sanders (AUS), KTM, 5:25:51 +16: 01
Provisional Standings (after stage five) – 2021 Dakar Rally
1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 20:15:39
2. Xavier de Soultrait (FRA), Husqvarna, 20:18:10 +2: 31
3. Jose Ignacio Cornejo (CHL), Honda, 20:19:21 +3: 42
4. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 20:19:22 +3: 43
5. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 20:21:45 +6: 06
13. Daniel Sanders (AUS), KTM, 20:40:24 +24: 45
29. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 22:31:39 +2: 16: 00